Bell Ringing

My Ringing Career

As you might expect, on these pages I have mentioned various churches ("towers") and their bells, and I wanted to give readers an idea of the size of each tower's largest ("tenor") bell. However, as not everyone will be familiar with the usual way of expressing the weight of a bell, I have simplified things by rounding them to the nearest quarter of a hundredweight. One hundredweight (1 cwt) is approximately equal to 50.8kg, and there are 20 cwt in a ton.

Giving Something Back

Published 28th October 2009

At the time of writing my last instalment I was a month into my fifteenth year of ringing. After far too long a break we resume more than halfway through my seventeenth year, and so much has happened that I really should start updating this page more often. To get the numbers out of the way first I've now rung at 207 towers – that's fifty in eighteen months. I surprised myself with that, actually; I was expecting it to be rather lower. Thirty-eight of those were between 9th March 2007 and 8th March 2008, which isn't too far off the record 43 of the previous year after all, but I added just eight in the following twelve months, leaving only four to show for the period from 9th March to the end of October 2009. Here's a none-too-brief summary...

I've already mentioned my first two new towers in March 2007 in the previous instalment. The next two were the morning and afternoon venues for the G&B Spring Training Day with which I'd offered to help. I'd arrived at Cirencester bright and early, not really knowing what to expect, only to find myself assigned to a Grandsire Doubles course and deployed to Oxfordshire – not even within the G&B Association, let alone the Cirencester Branch! Despite the unexpected long drive it was still a fun day, and students and helpers alike learned something new.

My next eight towers were similarly distant, being evenly divided between the B&W and G&B Association AGMs in Somerset and the Forest of Dean repectively. After an open day at one of the three towers in Clevedon later in April I returned to the Forest of Dean for the Bristol Rural Branch May Day Outing where I grabbed another four towers. A Bath Branch Practice followed in the middle of May, and at the end of that month I got my first "unringable" tower with the eight bells of Christ Church, Walcot, Bath (tenor 12¼ cwt). These bells had been put back into working order (just about) for the opening ceremony of the Bath Music Festival when all the bells in the city were rung at the same time, but they were still rather tricky to ring and almost felt as if they were hung on square bearings.

The ten bells of St Mary, Chepstow (tenor 16½ cwt) became my first Welsh tower in June, and in August I had the pleasure of the heavy ten at Wells Cathedral (tenor 56¼ cwt). A couple of new towers at Branch Practices finished off August nicely, but it wasn't until December when I returned to Clevedon that I got my next one. This was the five bells of St John the Evangelist (tenor 6 cwt), and it wasn't only the bells that were small. Access to the tiny Ringing Room proved to be via a ladder in what looked from the outside like a staircase turret, but which surely can't have been big enough to ever hold a staircase.

So why the sudden drop in new towers? Had my interest waned? Far from it – I was simply too busy with a brand new aspect of bell ringing: teaching. This is immensely good fun and very rewarding, particularly when you're teaching kids, and I'd recommended it to any ringer who's looking for a new challenge. It still amazes me just how quickly children can pick up the mechanics of ringing a bell, and I felt so proud when the first learner I'd taught from scratch – an eleven-year-old girl – first rang in rounds all by herself. I'd created a brand new ringer!

It all started early in August when I was asked to help restart a regular practice at the eight-bell tower of St Mary the Virgin, Henbury (tenor 20½ cwt), where they had some new recruits but very few of their own ringers. Although my involvement was mostly hands-off – such as keeping an eye on the learners as they rang by themselves – I picked up a few tips from the Tower Captain, and when I heard a couple of months later that Frenchay had also attracted some new recruits I immediately offered to help teach them.

The opportunity to grab some more towers presented itself on New Year's Day 2008 with the Bath Branch Open Day, and I began the year in fine style by grabbing six new towers including the brand new ring of six at St Stephen, Lansdown (tenor 2¾ cwt – yes, they're really that small! But they ring beautifully). Unfortunately time didn't allow me to finish "circling the Branch" (i.e. ringing at every tower in the Branch), but at the end of the month I finally managed to get a ring on the six at Blessed Virgin Mary, Swainswick (tenor 6¾ cwt) to complete the set.

I ended my fifteenth year of ringing almost the same way as it began with a return to those two Oxfordshire towers on 8th March 2008 for the G&B Spring Training Day. This time I had a few of my own learners with me at Cirencester, but although I was assigned to an Elementary course (at my own request) I didn't know any of the students on it. I'd been hoping to reach my 200th tower as it was the anniversary of my first ever lesson, but had to settle for just my 195th when we ended the day with a ring on the ten bells at St Andrew, Shrivenham (tenor 13 cwt), giving an average over those fifteen years of thirteen towers a year – well, at least it was a round number. I enjoyed this Training Day far more than I had the previous year's as the students were mostly youngsters, for two of whom I played taxi. One of the girls even gave me a hug to thank me for all my help, which was by far the best reward I could have received.

My 200th tower finally arrived almost exactly four years after my 100th on the Bristol Rural Branch May Day Outing, and once again I had some of my Frenchay learners in tow. This year we headed to the Tewkesbury area and the lucky bicentennial tower was the ring of six (tenor 20 cwt) at St Catherine, The Leigh. For some reason I only gained one more new tower in 2008 after that day, and after a flurry of three in March 2009 (including two rather cold towers near Cirencester on the G&B Spring Training Day), the B&W Association Eight-Bell Striking Competition in September and the G&B Autumn Training Day in October, we find ourselves right up to date.

At the time of writing I'm still teaching at Frenchay, although sadly none of those original learners are still ringing. We occasionally have groups of visitors come to see the bells at Frenchay and of course have a go themselves, and imagine my surprise when the group on 22nd June 2009 included my old primary school Headmaster! He was just as tall as I remembered, if not more so, and it was quite an experience for me to be teaching him. I've also been helping on the eight bells at St Saviour, Larkhall, Bath (tenor 10¾ cwt) since March 2009 – some five months after I stepped down as Bath Branch Education Officer (see my Committees page for the full story) – and have become a regular visitor to Swainswick.

The most recent development is that on 8th October 2009 I became Tower Captain at Keynsham. Things didn't start well, however – the Branch Practice on the 17th resulted in a broken rope, and the first tower practice night on the 22nd (after I'd replaced the broken rope) attracted just two local ringers (myself included) and a disappointed visitor – but I haven't let that put me off. I'm sure numbers will pick up very soon, and with any luck the next visitor we get will actually get to ring on our lovely bells.

Next: From Strength To Strength